DeWine signs bill pumping federal relief into unemployment, mental health, other programs

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine
Posted at 10:57 AM, Jun 29, 2021

Gov. Mike DeWine signed House Bill 168 Tuesday morning, allocating roughly $2.2 billion in federal relief to various programs throughout the state.

House Bill 168 puts $1.5 billion back into the unemployment system, as well as smaller sums to the following programs:

  • $84 million toward infrastructure improvements at Ohio’s pediatric behavioral health care facilities
  • $250 million toward new grants for local governments to strategically address serious water quality issues
  • $422 million toward local and regional economic recovery initiatives and programs

More than half of the money — which came to Ohio via President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan Act — will go toward replenishing the state's unemployment insurance trust fund, which took a hard hit throughout the ongoing pandemic.

"These investments in Ohio’s future address my critical priorities: strengthening our children’s behavioral health system, improving the water infrastructure in neighborhoods all across the state, and providing local leaders in every community with funds to address their unique, post-COVID needs," DeWine said in a news release.

However, the extra money in the hands of mental health facilities won't solve a shortage in the labor force. Hamilton County is short on child and adolescent psychiatrists, but neighboring counties Brown, Highland and Adams are all worse off; all three counties have no child or adolescent psychiatrists.

"We've probably seen the fewest amount of resumes coming in here since I've been at Talbert House and really, in this field," said Brad McMonigle, chief clinical officer at Talbert House.

When referrals dropped during the pandemic, Talbert House chose to leave vacant positions open but now the non-profit is struggling to find people to handle an increasing demand for mental health care and resources among young people.

"Some of this money really needs to get the mental health providers themselves instead of everything flowing through the schools," said Susan Shelton, executive director of MindPeace, a nonprofit with a network of in-school mental health providers in 184 schools.

She said she believes the therapist shortage is causing problems that House Bill 168 does not touch.

"Right now, because of the reimbursement rates of public and private insurance, therapists who require six years of education, plus additional work on licensing, they make a very low level of salary and still have to pay back their loans," said Shelton.

Shelton said while she cheers the state's decision to invest in the welfare of children, key infrastructure within those institutions need investment too.

DeWine announced in April his intention to use a portion of the rescue funding to repay debt incurred by the state unemployment agency so the financial burden wouldn't be passed on to businesses in the form of payroll tax increases.

DeWine signed House Bill 168 late Tuesday morning, and it will take effect in August.